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Art Exhibition “Confuse the Issues: Art, Text, and Identity” opens in this month

This fall, Schmucker Art Gallery at Gettysburg College presents an exhibition of text-based works by significant artists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, including Elizabeth Catlett, Deborah Dancy, Nekisha Durrett, Guerrilla Girls, Glenn Ligon, Carl Pope, Jr., Faith Ringgold, Hank Willis Thomas, and Carrie Mae Weems. Confuse the Issues: Art, Text, and Identity is on view from August 31 through December 10, 2022. An opening reception will be held on August 31, 5-7pm. A Virtual Gallery Talk with artist Deborah Dancy will take place via Zoom on October 5pm https://gettysburg.zoom.us/j/9991200186. An in-person Gallery Talk with artist Nekisha Durrett will be held on October 28 at 5pm with a reception to follow until 7pm. All events are free and open to the public. Gallery hours are Tuesdays – Saturdays 10am – 4pm.

“Confuse the Issues: Art, Text, and Identity” features text-based works by prominent contemporary artists of color who demonstrate the power of language. “Not only are the words central to the compositions of each photograph, sculpture, and print,” says Shannon Egan, gallery director, “but they also provide expressions of identity, declarations once marginalized, reflections on history, and calls to action.”

In reading both the linguistic and aesthetic narratives in the works on display, a viewer encounters stories that are at once critical and inclusive, verbal and visual, personal and political. The artists use assertive poetry, dynamic admonitions, and a clear naming of victims of police violence to question white privilege and incite change. The exchange of words in this exhibition may confuse the issues; nevertheless, the art speaks and demands that voices are heard.

Many of the artists included in the exhibition examine issues related to Blackness and African-American identity. For instance, Hank Willis Thomas, whose neon sculpture Pitch Blackness / Off Whiteness, on loan from the Art Bridges foundation, blinks on and off, alternating between sets of words: “off-white” and “pitch-black.” Read with the suffix “-ness,” the words in the sculpture not only signify a somewhat perilous “pitch black” space, but also the allusion to Blackness as a racial signifier.

Carl Pope, Jr.’s prints draw their language from a range of literary and popular sources and allude to the twentieth-century typography of ephemeral flyers, advertisements, and picket signs. Pope described The Bad Air Smelled of Roses as “an Afrofuturist project that is a never-ending essay about … blackness and its correspondences in American culture.” Echoing the spirit of protest and the language of advertising in Pope’s prints are the Guerrilla Girls’ posters, the anonymous artists’ activist group dedicated to fighting discrimination of race and gender in the art world. This print, created in 1989, draws attention to the absence of women artists and artists of color in most major collections and arts institutions.

Glenn Ligon and Deborah Dancy evoke historical narratives and the legacy of slavery in their works. Ligon’s suite of prints titled Narratives cites the frontispieces of nineteenth-century autobiographies of enslaved people, but here the select words are loosely drawn from the artist’s own life. Dancy’s poetic fragments appear similarly to be of the past, as they are inscribed upon antique silver trays and decorative mirrors. One mirror, for example, tells the story of the inequities of domestic labor and frustratingly limited recourse for the “three noiseless servants” who “polished rage.” Like the text of the other artists in the exhibition, Dancy’s language is often transgressive and demands that the reader/viewer consider historical fissures, generational trauma, and resilience.

Nekisha Durrett calls profound attention to the stories and lives of Black women murdered by law enforcement with their first names carefully perforated on the surfaces of magnolia leaves. Each leaf, presented in an exquisitely crafted, illuminated wood box, exemplifies both a delicacy and resistance to being violently discarded. Durrett, inspired by the #sayhername movement, explains, “This work centers the experiences and activism of Black women throughout the women’s movement, [which] has historically excluded women of color. This erasure from mainstream discourse is as relevant today as it was 100 years ago, especially for those positioned at the intersection of race and gender.”

Carrie Mae Weems also considers notions of individual and collective identity in her photograph from her series focused on Eatonville, Florida, the oldest Black incorporated town in the United States, founded in 1886 and home to the Harlem Renaissance writer and anthropologist Zora Neal Hurston (1891-1960). Like Hurston, Weems is a trained folklorist and storyteller who is drawn to voices of the vernacular, both textual and photographic.

For these artists included in Confuse the Issues, language is read, seen, and understood as a complex articulation of identity. Even with the works’ clarity of form and content, the artists often acknowledge the failure of words to convey a greater totality of rage, restriction, and injustice. In James Baldwin’s words, “No true account really of black life can be held, can be contained, in the American vocabulary. As it is, the only way that you can deal with it is by doing great violence to the assumptions on which the vocabulary is based.” As seen in this exhibition, the artists make both space and words their own; in some instances, the works literally fill the gallery with light and reflection, and for others, the works offer impassioned testimonies and, drawing again on Pope’s posters, an imperative reminder of the “urgent need to find radical solutions.”

Public Events:

Opening Reception: August 31, 5:00 – 7:00 pm

Virtual Gallery Talk with Deborah Dancy: October 19, 5-6pm https://gettysburg.zoom.us/j/9991200186

In-Person Gallery Talk with Nekisha Durrett: October 28, 5pm, with reception to follow until 7pm

Visiting Artists’ Biographies:

Nekisha Durrett currently lives and works in Washington, DC where she creates bold and playful large-scale installations and public art that aim to make the ordinary awe-inspiring while summoning subject matter that is often underrepresented or overlooked in visual culture. She earned her BFA at The Cooper Union in New York City and MFA from The University of Michigan School of Art and Design as a Horace H. Rackham Fellow. Durrett has exhibited her work throughout the Washington, DC area and nationally. She was a finalist in the National Portrait Gallery’s prestigious Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition and was featured in The Outwin 2019: American Portraiture Today exhibition. Recent installations include: Up ‘til Now, a freestanding, solar powered sculpture that evokes the history of Washington, DC’s landscape and architecture; “Messages for the City” in collaboration with For Freedoms in Times Square, New York; and a wall mounted public sculpture in the Liberty City community of Miami, Florida made in collaboration with conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas; and a permanent in the newly renovated Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in Washington. Durrett is currently in production on a large-scale, permanent sculpture in Arlington, VA.

Deborah Dancy is a multimedia artist, whose paintings, drawings, digital photography, and small sculptures play with the shifting intersection between abstraction and representation. She has received numerous awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship, Yaddo Fellowship, The American Antiquarian Society William Randolph Hearst Artist and Writers Creative Arts Fellowship, and the National Endowment of the Arts NEFA award. Her work is in numerous collections including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO; 21C Museum; Baltimore Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Birmingham Museum of Art; the Detroit Institute of Art; the Boston Museum of Fine; the Montgomery Museum of Art; the Spencer Museum of Art, the Hunter Museum of Art; Vanderbilt University; Grinnell College, Oberlin College Museum of Art; Davidson Art Center; Wesleyan University, and The United States Embassy Harare, Zimbabwe. She is represented by Kathryn Markel Fine Arts NYC, Robischon Gallery, Denver, and Marcia Wood Gallery, Atlanta.

Exhibition Credits:

Generous support for this project provided by Art Bridges.

The exhibition is co-sponsored by the following Gettysburg College departments and programs: Africana Studies, English, and Public Policy. With special gratitude for the support of Dr. Deborah Smith P’11, P’13, the Michael J. Birkner ’72 and Robin Wagner Art and Photography Acquisition Fund, and Special Collections and College Archives, Musselman Library, Gettysburg College.

About Schmucker Art Gallery: Schmucker Art Gallery offers meaningful and engaging experiences for the Gettysburg College community and surrounding region through diverse art exhibitions and related programming. The Gallery is committed to fostering an enriching environment that welcomes diverse perspectives and inspires dialogue, creativity, and connection.

Schmucker Art Gallery is located on the main floor of Schmucker Hall (conveniently located at the intersection of N. Washington and Water streets) and is fully accessible. Free parking is available in one of the visitor parking lots on campus, or free two-hour parking can be found on the streets adjacent to Schmucker Hall. The main entrance is through the quadrangle side of the building. All events are free and open to the public.

About Art Bridges

Art Bridges is the vision of philanthropist and arts patron Alice Walton. The mission of Art Bridges is to expand access to American art in all regions across the United States. Since 2017, Art Bridges has been creating and supporting programs that bring outstanding works of American art out of storage and into communities. Art Bridges partners with a growing network of over 190 museums of all sizes and locations to provide financial and strategic support for exhibition development, loans from the Art Bridges collection, and programs designed to educate, inspire, and deepen engagement with local audiences. The Art Bridges Collection represents an expanding vision of American art from the 19th century to present day and encompasses multiple media and voices. To learn more about the Art Bridges, follow the hashtag #ArtBridges on social media and visit www.artbridgesfoundation.org.

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